David Biespiel’s Poetry Wire: What is Lyric Poetry II


Back in December last year I offered not so much ten definitions but ten clues, fixings, or renditions about lyric poetry. A couple dozen of you chimed in as well, which was fabulous.

Let’s do it again! Here’s round two.

Pure sound, wild sound, tame sound, plain sound, raw sound, predestined sound, and revelatory sound are the music of lyric poetry.

Demonstrating thinking in a poem is one of the most difficult translations from poet to reader for a poet to master. Dawdling in a poem declares that an idea can change over the course of a poem.

Before you deny beauty, it’s good to accept it first. Beauty that exemplifies irritation was once beauty that embodied the classical. That’s what “Ode on a Secretion Burn” owes to “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

A figure in a poem remains vital when the imagination sustains its reality. Especially in surreality.

As Dr. Williams says, a poet is a “wisher.” And if a poem is a wish fulfillment, then a poem is an unmovable fancy.

Poems that rely on disfigurement diminish a reader’s role as participant in reading poetry. Poems that rely on re-figurement enlarge a reader’s a role as participant in reading poetry.

The English language is always unstable. That makes it a good language for innovation. But what is innovation without the iamb?

Dr. Williams asks, “where else can what we are seeking arise from but speech?” Um. Silence?

Here’s the irony about wanting to become an avant-garde poet: Your very goal is to write something that is unacceptable. And yet there’s the craving for acceptance following you around the house like a dog wanting to go for a walk. That’s how the avant-garde came to have so much faith in American mass media and its crass power.

A lyric poem is the most unknowing thing in existence. A poet pours all she doesn’t know into it to allow her to know something. But it’s the unknowing that the reader experiences.

Challenging what was once traditional is a governing impulse of lyric poetry. Naturally it becomes the new tradition as soon as the ink dries.

A common notion of lyric poetry is the idea of a single voice. Fracturing that voice doesn’t create cacophony so much as it creates many single voices. The sum is always one.

When the polarities of passion and the psyche sublimate each other, that’s a lyric poem.

Now it’s your turn. What is lyric poetry? Go.


Poetry Wire congratulates Sharon Olds for being named the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Stag’s Leap, one of the more tender-er books Olds has written in many books. Much to be said for years in the vineyard.

David Biespiel is a poet, literary critic, memoirist, and contributing writer at American Poetry Review, New Republic, New York Times, Poetry, Politico, The Rumpus, and Slate, among other publications. He is the author of numerous books, most recently The Education of a Young Poet, which was selected a Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers, A Long High Whistle, which received the 2016 Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction, and The Book of Men and Women, which was chosen for Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the 2011 Oregon Book Award for Poetry. More from this author →